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Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Here's the latest trailers for PROMETHEUS. The extended IMAX trailer is first, and it looks awesome! I haven't had time to process any of it enough to make a comment. As usual, excitement comes before thought. Enjoy!

Click on the red dialogue box at the bottom of video screens to eliminate annotations; click on the "x" to eliminate ads.


Next up is a another new trailer that adds even more fuel to my movie-watching engine! Enjoy again!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As Grave Encounters begins, a TV producer is being interviewed about a program that’s about to air.  He’s speaking very seriously, letting us know that, despite our doubts, this is the real deal, exactly as it was found, with nothing edited—except what was necessary for time constraints.  The program is episode 6 of a paranormal investigation show called, you guessed it, Grave Encounters.  The show stars Lance Preston—a slick, smooth-talking host, concerned more with the quality of his looks than the show.  He’s the type of guy who could sell a car as easily as host a show.

Lance (Sean Rogerson) is accompanied by three other pseudo-researchers—a camerawoman, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), a cameraman T.C. (Merwin Mordesir), and a technical equipment manager, Matt (Juan Riedinger).  They’re all half-heartedly into the production, and, like Lance, seem more interested in hamming it up for the camera than finding ghosts.  Yes, it’s a team of paranormal researchers who don’t expect to find what they’re looking for; they don’t even believe in ghosts.  They just want the money that comes from producing such sensational shows.  Imagine that!  Already, we have the makings of a most realistic reality show.

Episode 6 begins with a slick, stylized opening, cutting to a sidewalk scene as unprofessional as it gets.  Lance Preson, without haste, sets the foundation for the evening’s events—a night locked in the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, reputed to be haunted!  Yes, you read that right—locked in a haunted hospital!  “Stupid!” you say?  Wait just a minute.  This is sensational, it’s about money, and these researchers don’t believe in ghosts anyway.

Collingwood Hospital, as we learn from the local historian, was built in 1885 and closed in 1963.  In 1948, it was the scene of a grisly murder; Arthur Friedkin, the head physician and resident lobotomist, was stabbed to death by several escaped patients.  This, along with the usual legends of atrocities, makes Collingwood Hospital the stereotypic, if not obligatory setting for episode 6.

To stress the money-minded priority to trump up terror, Lance bribes a newly-employed gardener into making up a ghost story.  There’s even the typical time-lapse scene of dark clouds rolling by, as darkness falls.  We’ve seen it in a thousand times in other movies, and Lance does it for exactly that reason.  He’s a cliché himself, willing to do anything that works.  Even without ghosts, Lance says “We just wanna make sure we can get some good scares.”

Next, in true reality TV style, we have the arrival of Houston Grey—the Grave Encounters psychic medium, there to verify and validate what could otherwise be ridiculous.  Houston is the typical but effective overwrought character whose cheesy appearance and comments are almost expected.  In sunglasses and dressed in black, he’s a caricature of himself, and he knows it.  As soon as he enters, he senses “a dark spirit or demon that you shouldn’t be messing with…at all!”  Oh what irony there is in his theatrics!

Grave Encounters makes an academic distinction between “residual hauntings” and “intelligent hauntings.”  A residual haunting is, so they say, “like an echo from the past, continuing to loop over and over again.”  An intelligent haunting is “a spirit that interacts and has intention,” even, as reported, causing people to be pushed, scratched, or thrown.  Further, we have the dreaded “full spectral apprarition.”  This is a ghost that appears in full, visible form!  Of course, we can only wonder which of these ghost combos may haunt Collingwood Hospital (wink, wink).

I admit that I began evaluating Grave Encounters on the basis of what I expected from a ghost-hunting mockumentary.  I expected ghosts that cause the occasional opening door, the sometimes out of place item, sudden cold spot, or noise in the night—the type of subtle scares that are slight to moderate, but always effective.  I expected what real ghost-hunting reality shows often find (or produce).  Was I ever wrong?  Yes!  Grave Encounters has the kind of ghosts that dish out what I call “hard haunting.”  (Yes, I coined a new term there!)  They are physical manifestations of intangible entities, ready and willing to kick the butts of all who dare to doubt.  They also take their sweet supernatural time doing it.  Just when we think this movie might be a subtle snoozer, the haunting kicks into high gear and never slows down.  Yes, there’s hardly time to hyperventilate between one demonic deed and the next!

As for exactly what happens inside the hospital, I’ll leave that for you to discover.  Don’t worry; there’s still plenty to see.  Or, maybe I should advise you to actually worry about that.   I’ll only say that there’s a whole host of horrors as original as any I’ve seen anywhere.  There’s a tongueless demon that, with the right exposure and screen time, could have been a new cult classic.  There’s also a “demon girl” whose credit name is far too generic for her originality.  She’s actually the scariest of ghosts you could see, if ghosts really ever look like her.    Yes, the types of ghosts you see in Collingwood Hospital are the types you don’t live to tell tales about!

Found footage films, in general, have the burden of making us think they are real.  Those about ghosts and other frightful things have the added burden of truly scaring us.  Their success or failure can be all about this and little more.  So, the obvious question is simple:  Is Grave Encounters real enough, and is it really scary?  My answer to both is like a “residual haunting.”  Yes, yes, yes, and yes again!   Its effect is “like an echo from the past, continuing to loop over and over again.”  “What criteria or rubric do you use to gauge the fear factor?” you may say.  I use the simplest of measuring methods—my gut reaction to what I see at the moment, as well as what I feel afterwards, when I should have forgotten most of it.  More than once during and after Grave Encounters, I second guessed the safety of the darkness around me.  I even, at least once, wondered whether the darkness may have actually moved, even when my common sense told me otherwise.  No.  It didn’t scare me to death.  I didn’t have nightmares, and it didn’t make me permanently dysfunctional, giving me some phobia that few can pronounce.  No movie could do that to me, so it’s not criteria for ratings.  However, I did look over my shoulder, at least a few times, to double-check a “residual haunting” from Grave Encounters.  So, for me, the movie passed the most important litmus test for found-footage ghost tales.  It scared me!

Grave Encounters avoids mistakes many movies make by, as I mentioned earlier, locking the group in the hospital, at their request.  It’s all done to add thrills, boost ratings, and yes, make more money.  They can’t get out, even if they want to; since they don’t believe in ghosts anyway, they can’t imagine they’d ever need to get out.  Even when the spirits are pissed, these paranormal pros are first looking for the pranksters, rather than looking for the money shot (or looking for a way to break the door down and get the #^% out).  The demons also do their part to keep the crew looking smart, while keeping them in danger at the same time.  (You’ll see what I mean.)  Many movies make the characters pass up an opportunity for escape, making them look stupid; this movie doesn’t.  In one scene, Sasha's response to Lance's bone-headed plan is possibly the smartest words ever uttered from a horror victim's mouth.  For keeping the characters smart, Grave Encounters gets a well-deserved extra rocket.

As for original aspects, the one that stands out most is an odd but very effective temporal anomaly upon which I won’t spend further time (pun intended).  I’ll only say that, as a coincidence (or so I think), this is oddly the longest review I’ve ever written.  Will it ever end?  What time is it?  Wasn’t it that time 8 hours ago!

As for acting, it’s excellent!  All actors do a professional job of making their characters seem as real as we’d expect ourselves to be in the same situation.  They all have distinct, overconfident personalities that they play well; they also show the necessary and believable breakdown of character we expect from people getting a paranormal ass-kicking.

“What about the gore?” you say.  It’s here, there, and everywhere!  Once you get used to the “full spectral apparitions,” you should have no problem with any of it.  For what is happening, it’s not overdone or underdone; there’s just the right amount of blood in the bloodbath, just the right amount being vomited, and just the right amount running from whatever places blood needs to run.  There’s even an animal killing scene that’s real enough to make you look for the “no animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture” disclaimer at the end, just to be sure.

The cinematography is of the frenetic, shaky-cam type—the clichéd but necessary trademark of found-footage films, like it or not.  Whereas this effect normally annoys me, I require it in these supposedly homemade films.  After all, it’s become a fact that people making such movies don’t know how to hold a camera without shaking it.  Try holding one while being chased by a ghost, and you’ve got a real excuse!  There’s also good use of the green, night-vision filming now available on most consumer-level cameras.  The greenish color alone is enough to make even the most benign of places look haunted.  I’d remove a rocket, if such a movie didn’t go green at least once or twice.

“What about the running time?”  I’m asking that question myself, since you probably won’t.  It could be just right, too much, not enough, or maybe not at all!  Therein again lies one of the most original things about Grave Encounters that may be even creepier than the ghosts!  Even though I’ve mentioned it before, it bears repeating for reasons I’ll leave unexplained again.  Don’t worry!  If you watch the movie, you’ll have plenty of time to think about it…or will you?  Or did you already?

Is Grave Encounters a perfect movie?  No.  It’s not perfect, but that’s never what I expect movies to be.  Is it close to perfect?  No.  But, that’s also not what I expect most movies to be.  Is it enough of everything it needs to be to do the job it sets out to do, while, at the same time, satisfying the average fan of such movies?  Again, like a residual haunting, I say “Yes, yes, yes!”  Grave Encounters is a kick-ass thrill ride, from beginning to end, with some of the most pulse-pounding premonitions this side of the solar system!

If you decide to watch Grave Encounters, don’t expect anything in particular.  Leave your preconceived notions about ghost-hunting reality shows at the steps of the haunted asylum you plan to enter.  Whether or not you think it passes the scare test on film, you’ll have to agree that you’d evacuate your bowels on the spot, if any such things ever happened to you.  Imagine, for a moment, that you aren’t in the safety of your home, on your couch, with your dog, or whatever makes you feel detached from danger.  Imagine, instead, that you are, like these sorry souls, in a haunted asylum with full spectral apparitions galore!  Imagine that these demons are ready to make you bleed, scream, and die in the worst of ways.  If you can be so humble, honest, and insecure, even for a moment, you might just find Grave Encounters making you more of the vulnerable little human you really are!   Sitting on your couch, you might even enjoy it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Dark House begins with three young girls riding bikes down a street that could be anywhere, towards a house you wouldn’t find anywhere.  The house is gaudy, Victorian, and more odd than scary, until we hear a scream from within!  Inside the house, one of the three girls—our future heroine Claire—finds over half a dozen butchered children.   She also sees the doer of the deed punishing herself in a bloodbath of bone-grinding, flesh-mincing, hard-to-watch...well, you get the idea.  But, since this is a horror movie, have we seen the last of her?  Probably not!

As for the butchered children, yes, you read that right!  Not every terror tale treads that tabooed road, but Dark House does it without a flinch.  Off camera as it is, it loses none of the shock it deserves.  If you are disturbed by such things, be forewarned ahead!  If you forget, the bloody toys in the opening credits should remind you.

In true horror movie form, we flash to Claire, 14 years later, still traumatized and messed up, with all manner of social dysfunction.  She’s seeing a psychiatrist with intentions to face her fears and thus rid herself of them, as the cliché always goes.  Will she go for it?  Of course!  How could we have a horror movie, if she didn’t?  It’s only the process that leaves room for originality.

As for the messed up Claire, it’s no wonder (only because it’s so common) that she looks so good being so messed up.  Heroines in horror films always look good, no matter what manner of hell they endure dodging death.  Meghan Ory (who plays the sassy, twenty-something Claire) is no exception to this tradition.  She’s candy for the eyes, no matter what—soaked in blood, panting with sweat, or wrapped in a straight jacket.  Meghan is a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty who has trouble looking bad, no matter how bad things get.  Some horror heroines don’t have an excuse, but Meghan does!

So far, Dark House could be any other horror flick that, although delivering the gore, does little to stand out.  However, with the appearance of Walston Rey (played by Jeffrey Combs), things begin to change.  A true over-the-top horror character, stereotyped in all his roles, Combs always does the act that steals the show.  In Dark House, Combs plays a modern-day P.T. Barnum of high-tech horror amusements.  He’s eager to reestablish his place as the best in the business, with the money-hungry mind of a capitalist for fuel.  Therein lies the subject of our movie.  Dark House (the scene of the child massacre) is to be the foremost innovation in horror fun parks, “where people can die a thousand times and truly live.”  Walston has created 36 of the most successful horror attractions in the country.  I only wish so many places existed!

Dark House makes original use of one of the most overused ingredients in modern horror cinema—computer generated animation.  Numerous cameras throughout the house produce holographic albeit true-to-life images of monsters, murderers, and maniacs galore.  Wait!  There’s more!  That computer-generated ax, knife, or mace doesn’t disappear, until it’s halfway through your head!  Since real actors represent the holographic images, CGI in Dark House is mostly as perfect as it gets by default, if not by design.  Yes, it’s hard to go wrong when the cgi effects are real people!  However, when effects don’t look so good, they have the excuse of really being CGI in a funhouse.  How clever!

I’m not giving anything away to say that things go terribly wrong in Dark House.  Gigabytes of supernatural viruses infect spawns of cyber killers, causing flowcharts of movement to the depths of murder and mayhem.  No.  That’s not a quote from the back of the DVD case.  That’s just my cryptic way of spitting things out at the moment.  In other words, Dark House is, most simply and literally, technology gone to hell!

Speaking of murder and mayhem, it’s carried out by a most colorful coven of creatures.  There’s a Wraith (or she-ghost in need of a manicure) as scary as anything I’ve seen; there’s a killer clown scary enough as a killer clown, and a demented doctor who, let’s just say, didn’t take the hippocratic oath.  I could go on and on with these, but I’ll leave the rest for you to find yourself.  Be careful though, as these holographic horrors are set off by nothing more than fear.

As for other characters of the human sort, there are more than a few.   Ariel (Bevin Prince) is the buxom blonde, Rudy (Matt Cohen) is the would-be main squeeze of Claire and Ariel, Lily (Shelly Cole) is the enlightened girl in black, Bruce (Ryan Melander) is the resident wiseass, and  Eldon (Danso Gordon) is the too-cool-headed-in-the-face-death guy who never lasts long.  There’s also Samantha (Meghan Maureen McDonough) as the libidinous lesbian, giving the camera repeated reasons to look at Ariel’s buxom body.  All of these actors do a fine job of playing their part, as typical as it may be.  There is no bad acting; it’s just type characters who act, in real life, as badly as they are portrayed here.

Last but not least is the performance of the religious demonsess/zealot from hell, Mrs. Darrode (played by Diane Salinger).  This woman is the perfect person for the wraithlike role she portrays.  She is as much like the monster, in character, as anybody (or anything) else could be.  She turns a creature that could come off as funny into something that is truly scary.

How does this colorful collection of characters come together in just one tale of terror?  Is it fate, design, or forces too strange to know?  No matter how many times you scare me with a hologram, I’m not about to tell you here!

By now, I know you’re asking about the gore.  “Does it deliver the goods?”  Yes!  Director Darin Scott, with Douglas Dye accompanying him as the writer, know what type of movie this is; they step to the plate, hitting a homerun in that area, if not the others.  The death scenes are in the classic grand guignol style, being as graphic and naturalistic as necessary.  Real actors, props, and old-fashioned effects are used alongside CGI images that are sometimes more or less too obvious.  Real fake blood sprays and squirts along with cyber blood from scene to scene.  However again, since effects really are CGI, as part of the story, Dark House excuses itself without embarrassment.

Overall, I really liked Dark House.  It was much better than I expected, based on what I often expect from such movies.  Jeffrey Combs played his Herbert West caricature as fan service for all; all other acting was good enough to do the job, if not better.  The colors were vibrant, the gore was plentiful, the death scenes were creative, and the action was nonstop, after wasting little time to start.  Dark House was also not long enough to overstay its welcome.  With a brisk running time of 85 minutes, it’s hard to find time for boredom.  If you’re a fan of horror films that know their niche and deliver the goods, visit Dark House tonight.  Just don’t forget the popcorn!

Monday, March 5, 2012


A voyeuristic journey into a house and through a hallway leads us closer to a female voice in the distance.  The voice, we see, is from a barefoot girl talking on the phone and painting her toes.  She’s happy, carefree, and relaxed, as if nothing but the next social event is on her mind.  We soon learn that she’s babysitting, being tempted to go elsewhere by a friend.  I know you’re already saying, “I’ve seen that before!”  Yes, I agree.  Vulnerable young babysitters are the clichéd, predictable victims of the best and worst of horror movies.  The body count for child-watching cuties ranks among the highest I know on the altar of horror cinema.

Yes.  Red Balloon could be like so many other horror movies we’ve seen too many times, but it’s not.  What makes it different, you say?  Believe it or not, for one, it’s that clichéd babysitter, or rather the girl who so perfectly plays her part.  Rachel Bright is the icon of a fresh-faced, home-alone teen, unaware of the horror-film hell ahead.  With acting talents beyond her years, she breathes life into an otherwise common character.  Rachel’s wide-eyed enthusiasm makes us interested in Julie, not caring that we already know her.  She is natural and authentic in her role, as if she is the terrified teen she portrays.

Besides Rachel’s great performance, she has another big ally in her arsenal.  No matter how many times I see a babysitting babe in for the gale force of terror, I never get enough!  Let’s face it.  The fear factor is based on vulnerability, and babysitters are on a short list of clichés that work.  There’s also a great way that Red Balloon keeps Julie from being the dumb girl who won’t leave when the door’s open.  Imagine that!

As for other clichés that work, we also have an evil child, an evil toy, and, yes, the obligatory “things that go bump in the night.”  That’s another terror-tale trio that, if done correctly, can work every time.  Evil children scare the $%*# out of me, no matter how many times I see them!  There’s something that violates nature when you see an innocent face capable of malevolent things.  Evil children in movies only need to look innocent while they’re doing evil things; Niamh Palmer Watson naturally does that very well, while looking adorable at the same time.  As for toys and noises in the night, that’s all I’m saying.  This trio of toys, children, and nocturnal noise works again in Red Balloon, as well as I’ve seen it work the first time elsewhere.  There’s a couple of others involving news and nightmares that I’ll leave unreported here.  It's as if the writers threw in "everything but the kitchen sink" to prove they could make something extraordinary out of the ordinary.

Where Red Balloon really rises above the rest is in the cinematography and the acting I’ve already applauded.  As for acting, there’s a very natural feel about the whole movie, with due credit for this again given to Rachel Bright.  The camera angles, lighting, and perspectives give Red Balloon a claustrophobic, voyeuristic feel—as if we’re seeing something we shouldn’t.  It also makes us feel uncomfortable, instead of just jabbing us with cheap thrill scares.  Directing and editing is tight and crisp, with scenes smoothly flowing from one chop to the next.  There are more than a few things Hollywood could learn from the directing of Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot, the cinematography of Nat Hill, and the editing of Chris Hunter.  These are some talents to watch!  In one scene, the camera focuses on Rachel’s feet as she sits on a couch, suddenly zooming backwards, down the hall and out the window, until the viewer is in street outside.  This is all done in what appears to be a single take.  Excellent!  It’s one of those “How’d they do that?” moments!

Overall, Red Balloon is a great short film.  The story is predictable, but the actors aren’t.  We’ve all seen the terrified babysitter story, but we’ve never seen it done exactly like this before.  What’s better is that this story takes place in just under thirteen minutes!  It packs all the punch of many ninety-minute movies in a fraction of the time.  Red Balloon removes all the fat of most movies, dieting to a bare-bones appetizer if not an entrée.  Put Red Balloon on your movie-watching menu today!  Even if you don’t like the taste, it won’t last long.  

To see Red Balloon in its thirteen-minute entirety, complete with all the thrills and chills reviewed above, click on the movie below.  Or, to view it in a larger format, visit the "Short Films" page on my website by clicking here!  (It's the first movie, at the top, and, yes, it's worth the time to click on it and go there instead!)  Enjoy!

Starring Rachel Bright and Niamh Palmer Watson, Directed by Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot, Written by Alexis Wajsbrot and Jimmy Pinto, Cinematographer: Nat Hill, Edited by Chris Hunter, Music by Martin Macrae, Produced by Damien Macé, Alexis Wajsbrot, and Kerri Trounce.